Pinot noir

While the trend today is for what’s called “grower Champagne” or sometimes “artisanal” or “farmhouse” Champagne, with implications of a hands-on family approach from vineyard through final disgorgement, don’t forget that the grande marques, the Big Houses, so to speak, which obtain most of their grapes on long-term contract, can still clicquot roseprovide sublime drinking experiences. The Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004 — an online purchase — may not convey the sense of individuality, intimacy and terroir beloved by foodies, hipsters and others of the obsessive ilk, but damn, it’s a honey of a Champagne that displays gratifying depth and breadth of character and a heap of pleasure. A blend of 62 percent pinot noir, 15 percent chardonnay, 8 percent pinot meunier and 15 percent “red wine,” the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé 2004 offers a beguiling robe of smoky topaz flushed with a blaze of light copper and a foaming upward-swirling procession of tiny glinting bubbles; you could stare at this panoply for hours. First come notes of fresh strawberries and raspberries, imbued with hints of orange rind, quince and ginger and touches of dried currants, almond skin and — very quietly — orange blossom. There’s some element of fresh biscuits and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, but the dominant theme on the palate is played by steel and limestone; the texture is sleek, lithe and lively, with moderate and transparent density. The result is a graceful and elegant brut rosé that reveals innate power and energy. The bottle I bought was disgorged in May 2013, so the Champagne rested on the lees in bottle for about eight years. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. Look for national prices ranging, realistically, from $90 to $100, though a handful of retail outlets have this product drastically reduced, I mean as low as $65.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York. Only one product today instead of the usual two. I’ll get caught up soon.

The principle of this series, now in its ninth Yuletide season, is that a specific product can never be repeated, but I can write about different offerings from the same Champagne house or estate in Alsace or winery in California or whatever. You get the idea, I’m sure. Today, for example, we discuss the Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé 2006; I have included other releases from Laurent-Perrier in this series, but never one bearing a laurent 2006vintage date. High time, I say!

What would become the house of Laurent-Perrier was founded in 1812 by André Michel Pierlot, a former cooper and bottler turned negociant. His son, Alphonse Pierlot, succeeded him and, having no heirs, eventually bequeathed the estate to his cellar master, Eugène Laurent. When the latter died in an accident in 1887, his widow, Mathilde Emilie Perrier, took the reins of the house and renamed it Veuve Laurent-Perrier. A woman of formidable character, she ran the estate until her death in 1925, when her daughter, Eugénie-Hortense Laurent, succeeded her. Hard-hit by the economic crisis between the Wars and heavily in debt, Eugénie-Hortense sold the estate to Marie-Louise de Nonancourt in 1939.

At the conclusion of World War II, Bernard de Nonancourt returned to his home and underwent an apprenticeship to teach him every aspect of the making and business of Champagne. In October 1948, aged 28, he was appointed chairman and chief executive of Laurent-Perrier. Bernard de Nonancourt died in 2010, and the house is now operated by his daughters, Alexandra Pereyre de Nonancourt and Stéphanie Meneux de Nonancourt. Cellar master of Laurent-Perrier is Michel Fauconnet, who started with the company in 1974 and took his current post in 2004. This narrative seems to be a homage to loyalty, patience, longevity and imagination.

The Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé 2006 is a half-and-half blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, all grapes coming from Grand Cru villages. It spent eight years in the bottle, resting on the lees. The color is a very pale golden hue energized by a shimmer of tiny gleaming bubbles so prolific and mesmerizing that it’s almost erotic. This vintage Champagne opens with notes of acacia and heather, expanding to touches of spiced pear, quince and ginger and toasted hazelnuts, all wrapped in a lightly toasty biscuity aspect over a foundation of chalk and limestone. It’s close to viscous in texture, with hints of juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors subdued by a tremendous limestone and flint structure and the nervous vivacity of bright, crisp acidity. The finish leans toward glacial austerity and chilly hauteur; tis a brave person that will broach this fine-boned elegance, but the gratification will be worth the effort. 12 percent alcohol. Consume through 2018 to ’20, properly stored. Excellent. About $65.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier US Inc., Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review.
Let’s stay in France for today’s methode traditionelle offering, in this case, the François Baur Brut Réserve a baurnon-vintage, or actually multi-vintage, Cremant d’Alsace. The Baur family was established in the village of Turckheim in 1741; the estate is now operated by the ninth generation. Since 2001, the vineyards have been managed on biodynamic principles. According to French wine regulations, Cremant d’Alsace must be made by the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The François Baur Brut Réserve — a blend of pinot blanc, riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris — is a lively and engaging sparkling wine that offers a pale gold color and a pleasing fountain of tiny bubbles; there’s a spectrum of lemon effects, in the range of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd, with a few moments in the glass bringing out hints of jasmine, fresh bread, quince jam and spiced pear, all honed on an edge of steel and limestone. The wine is crisp and tart, quite dry with burgeoning minerality and sleek acidity, but tasty, very well-balanced, lithe and smoky. 12.5 percent alcohol. Heaps of personality with a serious mien. Excellent. About $18, a Lovely Value.

Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

The house of Diebolt-Vallois is fairly young for Champagne. Though the Vallois family had been raising vines in the village of Cuis since the 15th Century — think of the heritage that implies! — and the Diebolt family had dieboltbeen living in the village of Cramant since the end of the 19th century, it was only in 1978 that Jacques Diebolt and Nadia Vallois launched the estate that bears their combined names. Their children, Arnaud and Isabelle, work with the parents and take an increasingly active role in running the estate. The product under consideration today (an online purchase) is the non-vintage Diebolt-Vallois Prestige Brut, actually a blanc de blancs, being composed of 100 percent chardonnay grapes. Not mentioned on the label is the fact that all the grapes derive from Grand Cru-ranked villages in Champagne’s Cote des Blancs region. Gosh, this is a beautifully wrought Champagne. The color is ultra pale gold, like platinum blond, set aglow within by the constant shimmer of tiny frothing bubbles. It’s a chiseled Champagne of elegant cheekbones and slim wrists, yet possessing the strength to carry a load of limestone and chalk from first sniff to final sip; you feel the strata of minerals below the vineyards with each encounter. Bare hints of roasted lemon, apple skin, spiced pear and lime peel flesh out its character and appeal, lending beguiling fragrance and lingering but elusive taste. It’s perfectly balanced on the palate, its dense, talc-like mineral nature riven by pinpoint crystalline acidity. I could drink this all day and night, and sort of did. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. Look for prices nationally from $50 to $70.

Petit Pois Corp T/A Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J.
Here’s an interesting entry for this series, a first sparkling wine from New Zealand. Kim Crawford founded his fizzeponymous winery in 1996 and sold it to Canadian beverage giant Vincor in 2003. That concern in turn was acquired by Constellation Brands in 2006. Today we look at the Kim Crawford Small Parcels Methode Traditionelle Fizz 2009, Marlborough, a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay. (Winemaker was Anthony Walkenhorst.) This is a delightful sparkling wine, clean, fresh and bright. The color is pale gold, and the tiny bubbles stream upward in a generous swirl. Notes of toasted cinnamon bread and brioche are buoys to hints of roasted lemon, spiced pear and a touch of slightly caramelized tropical fruit. The wine is quite dry and boasts an exquisite structure of oyster shell and limestone that increases its influence through a finish that’s poignant in its delicacy and transparency. Another sparkler with fine bones and interior power. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $35.

Constellation Imports, Rutherford, Calif.

duval lerot rose
The Champagne house mentioned yesterday in this space, Ayala, was founded in 1860. For today’s entry, we skip back one year to 1859, when the house of Duval-Leroy was established by the melding of two well-known families in Champagne. Duval-Leroy is still run by the family, with Carol Duval-Leroy at the head, assisted by her sons, Julien, Charles and Louis. Master of the cave is Sandrine Logette-Jardin. A major contribution of the house to the Champagne industry occurred in 1911, when Raymond Duval-Leroy created the first Champagne made exclusively from Premier Cru vineyards, opening the door to a level of focused, upscale products. Our Champagne today is the Duval-Leroy Premier Cru Rose Prestige, composed of 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay, aged on the lees a minimum of 36 months. The color is an entrancing smoky topaz-light copper hue, given liveliness by a upward surge of tiny bubbles. First, on the nose, come notes of strawberry, raspberry and orange rind, deepened, after a few moments, by hints of brioche and lightly-buttered cinnamon toast, quince and orange marmalade. Make no mistake, this is a high-toned, dry Champagne, flush with elements of limestone and flint, satin and steel, yet immensely appealing in its touches of red berries, cloves and a bracing fillip of sea-salt, all expressed with the utmost delicacy and tenderness over a tensile structure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review.
Here’s another brut rose, this one from Napa Valley. Priest Ranch is a label of the Somerston Wine Co. that includes Somerston Wines and Highflyer. Craig Becker is general manager and director of winemaking and viticulture. The Priest Ranch Brut Rose 2011, Napa Valley, was made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels; produced in the traditional Champagne method, it spent 18 months in the bottle en tirage, on the lees. The color is medium salmon-topaz with a core of tempest-like tiny bubbles. Lots of steel and flint in evidence, a crisp and lively sparkling wine, it offers notes of blood orange, apple peel and lime with hints of almond skin and orange blossom; a few minutes in the glass nurture elements of sweet red fruit and juicy currants. An intense limestone edge and brisk acidity lead to an austere finish that builds layers of chalk and damp shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. A fresh, lovely, vibrant brut rose for drinking through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Yes, indeed, My Readers, today launches the ninth edition of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” and I’m changing the format a bit to accommodate different genres and styles of sparkling wine. Each day of the series, I will offer two examples, one a Champagne (I hope) and the second an alternate sort of sparkling wine, though one post will be devoted to Prosecco because it’s so popular, and producers are trying to make an up-scale shift. As usual, on New Year’s Eve, I’ll offer three or four products at various prices.

So, on we go, enjoy and Merry Christmas!
The house of Ayala was founded in 1860 by Edmond de Ayala in the village of Aÿ, which looks like the name of an exotic seductress in a science-fiction movie. The estate was operated by the family until 2005, when it was acquired by Bollinger. The Ayala Brut Majeur, nv, is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 20 percent pinot meunier. It rests on the lees — the residue of dead yeast cells — in the bottle for an average of eight years. The color is pale gold, set a-shimmer by a frothing surge of tiny glinting bubbles. A prominent architecture of damp limestone and chalk frames beguiling notes of roasted lemon, spiced pear and lightly candied quince and ginger, buoyed by a lithe and animated texture heightened by crisp acidity. From mid-palate back through the finish, the mineral element becomes more pronounced, though that influence only augments this Champagne’s essential crystalline purity and intensity. 12 percent alcohol. I loved this Champagne’s liveliness and elevation. (A local purchase.) Excellent. About $40.

Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, N.Y.
bonny doon sparkling albarino
Rare is the occasion when I’m called upon to mention the albariño grape in the same line as sparkling wine, but leave it to Randall Grahm, the indefatigable leader of Bonny Doon Vineyard to explore such an option. Made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle — now called the “traditional method” outside of Champagne because of EU regulations — the Bonny Doon Sparkling Albariño 2010, Central Coast, offers a mild gold hue and moderate through very pretty effervescence. (This product is finished with a bottle cap, so be careful when you open it.) When first broached, this Sparkling Albariño seems delicate, a creature of soft wings and tender threads, but a few minutes in the glass bring out distinct elements of roasted lemon, baked pineapple and caramel apple, with a back-note of candied citron. It’s quite dry, slightly funky and earthy in a loamy way, and sports a finish that’s savory, bracing and saline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 617 cases. If you have any of this on hand or find a bottle to purchase, by all means try it, but drink up; I think it has reached the distance of its range. Very Good+. About $36.

A sample for review.

The color of the Mud House Pinot Noir 2013, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, is such a lovely, limpid, transparent ruby hue that mud houseyou could be forgiven for wanting just to gaze upon it for a while, as one might be mesmerized by a glass of red wine in a Dutch still-life painting. Take a sniff, though, to encounter the wine’s winsome notes of cloves and sassafras, red cherry and raspberry, slightly roughened by touches of briery-brambly elements. This pinot noir ages briefly in a combination of French oak barriques and stainless steel tanks, so it retains appealing freshness as well as a light cloak of spicy wood influence. The wine’s delicate nature meshes with its marked purity and intensity of character, in a balance that posits bright acidity with delicious red fruit flavors and a mere hint of dusty tannic resonance. A real treat. Winemaker was Nadine Worley. Drink now through 2016 into 2017. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Accolade Wines North America, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Maggy Hawk is an interesting name for a winery. It comes from the name of a racehorse owned by Barbara Banke, chairman and proprietor maggyof Jackson Family Wines and widow of Jess Jackson, the founder of it all who died in 2011. The property lies in the remote “deep end” of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley and is one of this sub-AVA’s closest vineyards to the Pacific Ocean. The property encompasses 57 acres, much of it in redwood forest, with 22.55 acres planted to vines. That acreage is divided among five vineyards, planted in 2000, that vary in size from a tiny 1.23 acres to a relatively expansive 10.03 acres. These five vineyards are named for off-spring of Maggy Hawk: Jolie, Unforgettable, Stormin’, Hawkster and Afleet, the latter a Belmont Stakes and Preakness winner. Maggy Hawk is one of the wineries that JFW counts among its Spire Collection of elite estates, though nothing fancy or luxurious there draws the Grant-Douglasvisitor. This is a place where vines, grapes and winemaking prevail over tasting rooms, winemaker dinners, tourism and wedding events. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, pictured here, also the director of winemaking at La Crema, another JFW property, acquired by Jess Jackson in 1993. The soil on this hillside, where the elevation varies from 300 to 500 feet, is decomposed sandstone, offering little nutrition for the vines but terrific drainage, an ideal situation for growing excellent grapes. Morning fog, combined with warm afternoons and a wide diurnal swing in temperature, also provide salubrious conditions.

I tasted the 2012 versions of Jolie, Stormin’, Hawkster and Afleet — Unforgettable was not made in 2012 — back in March with Grant-Douglas at lunch in Sonoma and this month at home with review samples. It was interesting to observe that eight months built some weight into the now three-year-old wines as well as adding to their layering of fruit, flowers, spice and minerality. These are serious pinot noirs, thrilling to taste and drink, each a projection of the wine’s roots in the earth of a specific site. They should drink beautifully until 2020 or so.
Maggy Hawk “Hawkster” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. This wine aged 14 months in French oak, 63 percent new barrels. The grapes derive from the estate’s Blocks 12, 13 and 14, adding up to 6.18 acres. The color is an uplifting transparent medium ruby hue; the complex layering of fruit, spice and minerals is beautifully knit and evocative, with notes of red and black currants, a hint of red cherry and touches of cranberry and pomegranate. Back in March, I wrote in my book that “Hawkster” was “the most spare — most slender in frame” of this quartet, though seven months have filled it out nicely, but, damn, it feels light as a feather while being supple and satiny and delivering a definite graphite-loamy edge. Sweet cherry fruit laden with cloves and smoke, briers and brambles slide across the palate with delicacy and nuance, while subtly dusty tannins and keen acidity provide support and staying power. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 268 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $66.
Maggy Hawk “Jolie” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. This wine comes from the steep slopes of 10.03-acre Block 7, by far the largest on the property; it aged 14 months in French oak, 64 percent new barrels. Here’s my impression from back in March: “Cloves and sassafras — spiced and slightly macerated cherries & currants — lovely fruit, loamy quality — spare, with a streak of vivid acidity.” This month, I would say: Fairly dark ruby shading to a lighter magenta rim; dominant elements of ripe black and red cherries and currants are permeated by notes of cranberries, pomegranate and cloves — there’s that consistency — though this is a more full-bodied wine than its cousins, but while it flirts with a lush texture, it pulls up plenty of graphite minerality and dry tannins, and exercises power that comes close to being muscular and sinewy. On the palate, it’s characterized by deeply spicy black and red fruit flavors and electric acidity. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 312 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2023. Excellent. About $66.
Maggy Hawk “Afleet” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. Afleet, the smallest production of this pinot noirs from 2012, comes from the Maggy Hawk estate’s Block 4 vineyard, measuring only 1.23 acres; it aged in French oak for 14 months, 43 percent new barrels. Seven months put a little weight and depth on this wine from when I tasted it in March. Initially, I was impressed with its spareness and elegance, as well as its dusty, loamy quality and its smoky, spicy cherry and plum fruit. Presently, I was taken by a beautiful transparent medium ruby color; by its notes of red and black currants and cherries permeated by hints of cloves and pomegranate; by its deep, dark, spicy rooty character and its foundation in the earth, because this Afleet is a pinot noir that feels as if it’s still drawing nourishment from the soil and bedrock of the vineyard. The texture is almost powdery graphite and talc-like elements, though energized by (ahem) fleet acidity. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 156 cases. Drink now through 2022 to 2024. Exceptional. About $66.
Maggy Hawk “Stormin'” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley. This Stormin’ pinot noir saw the least new oak of this foursome, meaning 41 percent, aging for the standard 14 months; the grapes derived from the estate’s 3.47-acre Block 6 vineyard, adjacent to the Jolie Block 7. Despite its lovely transparent medium ruby-magenta hue, almost an expression of lustrous fragility, the wine seethes with elements of leather and loam, with wild and briery red and black currant and cherry scents and flavors, and an array of domestic and exotic spices ranging from cloves and sassafras to allspice and sandalwood. Mainly, though, this is a resolutely vibrant and structured wine that reveals remarkable purity and intensity of the grape and its feeling for a patch of land; a few minutes in the glass bring out more delicate touches of violets and lilac and hints of tobacco and bitter chocolate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 223 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $66.

Do I have to defend the right or necessity to drink rosé wines all year around? Do I have to man the barricades, go to the wall, belly up to the bar to convince nay-sayers that a shimmering, scintillating, beautiful rosé wine — dry, vibrant, fruity, subtle: not sweet — is appropriate in every month and season? If I have to do that, then my case may be hopeless, as far as the die-hard opposition goes, but those who have followed this blog for a considerable period will require no further persuasion, gentle or not. A clean dry rosé may serve as a refreshing aperitif in December as well as June, and few wines go better with fried chicken, for example, or various terrines or the egg-based dishes that front the sideboard for big family breakfasts during the upcoming holidays. Thanksgiving dinner itself is a good test for rosé wines. No, friends, do not neglect the rosé genre, from which I offer 10 models today. The Weekend Wine Notes eschew detailed technical, historical and geographical data (which we all adore) for the sake of incisive reviews ripped, almost, from the very pages of my notebooks, though arranged in more shapely fashion. These eclectic wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
billa haut
Bila-Haut Rosé 2014, Pays d’Oc (from M. Chapoutier). NA% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Pale copper-salmon hue; orange zest, strawberries and raspberries; a pleasing heft of limestone minerality with cutting acidity; juicy and thirst-quenching, but dry as sun-baked stones; a finish delicately etched with chalk and dried thyme. Very Good+. About $14.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
blair rose
Blair Vineyards Delfina’s Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco. 13.3% alc. 117 cases. Bright peach-copper color; ripe strawberries macerated with cloves, raspberries, hints of tomato skin and pomegranate; paradoxically and deftly fleshy and juicy while being quite crisp and dry and tightly tuned with limestone and flint. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $22.
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014, Central Coast. 13% alc. 35% grenache, 18% mourvedre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsault, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise. Very pale onion skin hue with a topaz glow; quite delicate, almost fragile; dried strawberries and raspberries with a touch of peach and hints of lavender and orange rind; gently dusty and minerally, like rain-water drying on a warm stone; a note of sage in the finish. Elegantly ravishing. Excellent. About $18.
bridge lane
Bridge Lane Rosé 2014, New York State (from Lieb Cellars). 11.9% alc. Cabernet franc 63%, merlot 21%, pinot blanc 8%, riesling 5%, gewurztraminer 3%. Ethereal pale peach-copper color; delicate notes of peach, strawberry and raspberry with a touch of watermelon and spiced pear; a hint of minerality subtle as a river-stone polished with talc; incisive acidity for liveliness; develops more floral elements as the moments pass: lavender, rose petal, violets, all beautifully knit. Excellent. About $18.
heintz rose
Charles Heintz Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Beautiful salmon scale-light copper hue; blood orange, tomato skin, strawberries and raspberries, hints of violets and lilac, a note of cloves and damp limestone; red fruit on the palate with an undertone of peach; quite dry and crisp, lithe on the palate, but with appealing red fruit character and an element of stone-fruit and chalk-flint minerality. A gorgeous rosé. Excellent. About $19.
cornerstone corallina
Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2014, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. 100% syrah. Very pretty pink coral color; strawberries and raspberries, hint of pomegranate and a fascinating note of spiced tea and apple peel compote; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tomato aspic and red currants; full-bodied for a rose, with a texture that would be almost lush save for the bristling acidity that keeps the whole package energized. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
Crossbarn Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast (from Paul Hobbs). 12.5% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; intriguing musky-spicy note, crossbarn roselike rose hips, camellias, pomegranate, cloves and sandalwood macerated together; strawberries and orange rind; hints of pink grapefruit and peach; lively and crisp, with a chalk and flint edge to the supple texture; gains a fleshy and florid character on the finish. Very Good+. About $18
loomis air
Loomis Family “Air” Rosé Wine 2013, Napa Valley. 12% alc. 41% grenache 36% mourvedre 13% counoise 10% syrah. 125 cases. Light copper-salmon hue; dried strawberries and raspberries, notes of lavender and red cherry; hints of watermelon and cloves; incisive acidity and limestone minerality bolster juicy red fruit flavors and an elegant and supple texture that retains a crisp chiseled character; a fillip of grapefruit rind and lemongrass provide interest on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato 2014, Toscano IGT. 11% alc. Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah. (An Antinori brand since 1946.) Light pink-peach color; delicately floral and spicy, notes of raspberries and red currants and a hint of dried thyme and heather; clean acidity and limestone minerality offer gentle ballast for tasty but spare red fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $14.
stinson rose
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2014, Monticello, Va. 13% alc. 100% mouvèdre. 175 cases. Classic onion skin hue with a tinge of darker copper; pink grapefruit, rose petals, cloves; raspberries and strawberries delicately strung on a line of limestone minerality and bright acidity; from mid-palate back notes of cranberry, pomegranate and grapefruit rind leading to a tart finish; lovely balance and integrity. Excellent. About $19.

While no one would try to assign a date to when vineyards were first planted in Tuscany or Burgundy, Rheinhessen or Bordeaux, it’s a pretty safe assertion that grape-growing in the Willamette Valley began in 1966, when David Lett came from California to Oregon and planted pinot noir vines in the Willamette Valley, specifically in the Red Hills of Dundee. Lett was followed two years later by Dick Erath, who also planted pinor noir in the Red Hills. (Lett had planted pinot noir vines further south, near Corvallis, in 1965, and transplanted them the next year.) Both of the pioneering wineries they launched — Eyrie Vineyard and Erath Vineyards (originally Knudsen-Erath) — thrive today, as well as about 400 more. Willamette Valley, lying between the Oregon Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east, stretches from just north of Portland to south of Eugene and is influenced by Pacific winds that flow through gaps of the coastal mountain ranges. Few of the wineries, mostly family-owned, produce more than 20,000 cases a year, with many releasing numbers well below that, facts that contribute to the general feeling in the region that they’re more authentic and artisanal and less greedy than their counterparts in California. The primary red grape, by far, is pinot noir. Chardonnay was widely planted in the 1960s and ’70s, usually in the wrong sites, and was replaced by pinot gris and riesling, though chardonnay is making something of a comeback, more carefully sited.

In addition to the broad Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), approved by the federal government in 1983, the region encompasses six smaller and more geologically and geographically focused AVAs: Yamhill-Carlton (approved in 2005), Ribbon Ridge (2005), McMinnville (2005), Dundee Hills (2005), Chehalem Mountains (2006) and Eola-Amity Hills (2006), all north of Salem. Of the nine wines considered in this post, seven carry Willamette Valley designations and two more specific AVAs. All display, to greater or lesser degree, an element that to me is a constant and essential feature of Willamette Valley pinot noirs, and that is a vein of deeply rich brambly loaminess that ties the wines to the earth whence they came.

I received these wines as review samples in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of David Lett’s first planting of pinot noir vines, a bold and visionary act that launched an industry.
The grapes for the Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, were drawn 70 percent from eight Printestate vineyards, with the remaining 30 percent coming from selected vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 31 percent new. The color is medium ruby with a magenta-mulberry tinge. At first, the impression is of something delicate and ethereal, tissues of nuances; as moments pass, however, the wine takes on weight and character, deepening and broadening its appeal with elements of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants and notes of smoke and loam, cloves and sandalwood and some exotic rooty tea. This sense of dimension and detail is shot through with vibrant and fairly tart acidity that keeps the wine lively and alluring, while moderately dense graphite-laced tannins contribute to overall structure. …. percent alcohol. Production was 2,261 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. The winery produced its first vintage in 1978. Winemaker is Dave Paige. Excellent. About $60.
The Broadley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley offers a radiant transparent medium ruby hue and shape- broadley-vineyardsshifting scents of underbrush and loam, cranberries and raspberries and hints of black tea, sassafras and cloves. The wine aged nine or 10 months in neutral French oak barrels, meaning that the barrels had been used during enough wine-making cycles that the wood influence is not just minimal but subliminal, a sculpting rather than a dominating influence. This is a lean and lithe (and tasty) pinot noir in which acidity cuts a swathe on the palate and mineral elements build through the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,000 cases. I think that this is a terrific pinot noir, and the price makes it irresistible for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $20, so Buy It by the Case.
The winery was founded in 1982 by Craig and Claudia Broadley. Winemaker is their son, Morgan Broadley.
The Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Ribbon Ridge, brings out the exuberant and forceful aspect of chehalemthe grape. The wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 39 percent new, 39 percent 1-year-old and the rest, uh, older, I guess. The color is dark ruby-mulberry with a lighter magenta rim; this is all loam-infused black and red cherries permeated by cloves and black pepper, touches of sandalwood and lavender and a potent edge of graphite. The wine is very dry, intensely smoky, woodsy and mossy, with a super satiny, supple texture that doesn’t conceal a thoughtful interpretation of pinot noir’s robust and powerful side. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Production was 440 cases. First vintage was 1990. Winemaker is Wynne Peterson-Nedry. Excellent. About $50.
The Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, made from organic and biodynamic grapes, displays a brilliant deep ruby hue shifting to mulberry-purple. The wine aged in French oak, 32 percent new barrels for an unspecified amount of time. It’s a very — perhaps even excessively — dark, rooty, loamy and spicy pinot noir that sacrifices nuance and finesse for earthy power, feeling a bit too syrah-like for its own good. A year or two of aging may bring this wine to rights. Production was 2,800 cases. Winemaker was Gilles de Domingo. The winery’s first vintage was 1987. Very Good. About $28.
The Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, spent 11 months in neutral oak lange labelbarrels, so the focus is on the grape’s purity and intensity, which this wine possesses in spades. The color is dark ruby shading to transparent magenta at the rim; notes of cloves, sandalwood and sassafras permeate elements of black cherries and plums that feel slightly macerated and roasted, while a few moments in the glass bring in hints of loam, mocha, tobacco and tea leaf. This is one of those pinot noirs that so dexterously melds delicacy, elegance and power — luxury married to spareness — that you wish it would take up residence in your mouth forever, though you have to spit it out or swallow eventually. Paradoxically, despite this sensual appeal, the wine is quite dry, fairly bristling with touches of rooty, mossy underbrush and bright acidity. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Winemaker was Jesse Lange. The winery’s first vintage was 1987. Excellent. About $35.

Founded in 1974, Ponzi Vineyards is one of Willamette Valley’s stalwart pioneers. Grapes for the Ponzi Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, were drawn from sustainably farmed estate vineyards as well as a number of other sustainable vineyards in the region. The wine aged 11 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. Winemaker is Luisa Ponzi. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry-magenta cast; the first impression is of an exotic amalgam of cloves, sandalwood and sassafrass, pomegranate and rhubarb, all supporting high, bright scents of red and black fruit etched with slightly dusty graphite. The wine is fairly substantial on the palate, delivering a sleek, satiny texture that’s almost plush, while quite engaging and animated by clean acidity; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of briers, brambles and underbrush, leading to a finish pretty dense with roots and leather, though the wine is never less than deft and dexterous, but more untamed than elegant. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was 8,000 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
rex hill
Gratifying largess and dimension characterize the Rex Hill Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, though there’s also pinpoint focus on detail that feels chiseled in stone. The color is a beguiling transparent medium to light ruby — nothing extracted here — while the wine practically smolders in the glass in embers of lavender, loam, sandalwood and spiced and macerated red and black cherries and plums; it’s all quite fleshy and meaty, almost feral in its primal dynamic, its piercing elements of briers and brambles and graphite-tinged tannins, yet in that lovely equilibrium of the best pinot noirs, it displays a balancing sense of delicacy and filigree, all this in a wine that aged 14 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels. 14 percent alcohol. Production was 9,518 cases, so there’s plenty to go around. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Rex Hill’s first release was from the 1983 vintage. Winemaker is Michael Davies. Excellent. About $35.
Let’s say upfront that the Saint Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Willamette Valley, is a great pinot innocentnoir wine that delivers all the power and elegance, the earthiness and airiness that we expect from Willamette Valley in an excellent year. The color is medium transparent ruby; first come the loam and underbrush, deeply rooted, then more frangible layers of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants imbued with notes of moss, lavender and graphite. This is a lovely, lively, lithe and highly structural expression of a grape and vineyard that offers something essentially piney and and briery, as well as a fairly tannic element burnished with dusty graphite. It’s neither dense nor chewy, however, as the presence of tannins often implies, being, instead, dynamic and light on its feet. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 948 cases. Drink now through 2020 to 2022. A delightfully detailed wine worthy of meditation. Winemaker was Mark Vlossak. Exceptional. About $42.
When I read that a pinor noir wine underwent 16 months aging — as it happens in 40 percent new French oak — my heart sinks and the words “uh-oh” form in the thought-cloud above my head. Readers, that’s a lot of wood. However, the Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir 2012, Dundee Hills, managed to absorb that oak influence and emerge superbly sleek, satiny and supple. The color is a radiant, transparent light ruby hue; notes of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb are woven with elements of red cherries and raspberries, briers, moss and loam, the latter earthy qualities burgeoning in nose and mouth as the minutes pass. Despite the sleek and suave texture, this is a wine that offers a rigorously structured character and a demanding finish that seem to require some time to become more balanced and integrated, so try from the end of 2016 or into 2017 through 2021 through ’23. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 800 cases. Excellent potential. About $38.
The Sokol Blosser family planted five acres of grapes in 1971 and produced its first wine in 1977. The second generation operates the winery today, with Alex Sokol Blosser as winemaker.

I appreciated the style of this pinor noir wine from Australia’s Adelaide Hills appellation. In contrast to pinot noirs from various wakefield pinotregions of California and Oregon, which can be immodestly plush, luxuriously spicy and thoroughly oaked to a fare-thee-well — no, not every one all the time — the Wakefield Pinot Noir 2014 offers a spare, lean and lithe interpretation of the grape that satisfies the minimalist in me. The color is medium ruby; initially aromas of mint, tobacco and slightly resinous rosemary dominate the bouquet, followed by delicately spiced and macerated black and red currants and cherries that open to hints of cranberry and pomegranate. The wine aged in one-and two-year-old French hogshead barrels, a size generally (or sort of) agreed upon to equal about 63 U.S. gallons, slightly larger than the standard 59-gallon barrique in Bordeaux. (That’s your Fact of the Day.) The briery-brambly-underbrush elements come up quickly, and acid plows a furrow on the palate, all making for a pinot noir of essential liveliness and gradually burgeoning earthy dimension that doesn’t neglect pert currant and cranberry flavors. The texture is satiny and supple without being opulent or blatant, and the finish concludes on a tart, chiseled, minerally note. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 into 2017. very Good+. About $17, representing True Value.

Imported by AW Direct, Novato, Calif. A sample for review.

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